Its conference season and I’ve been thinking about what has most stood out to me at events this year and in the past. One of the most memorable technologies to cross my path has been virtual reality (VR). I’ve been impressed with how it can improve the experience for patients with chronic pain, and I wanted to share my thoughts with providers who serve patients like me.
I remember the first time I experienced virtual reality. It was at the end of my first day attending the Personal Connected Health Alliance’s Connect Health Conference in the winter of 2016. I was exhausted; my body could barely make it across the exhibit hall, and I had no idea how I was going to make it to my hotel room so I could crawl into bed and forget about the networking reception scheduled for later that evening. Then, a friendly salesman from the Samsung booth offered me a chair, and I sat down.
Once I sat down, I was captivated by the video and watched as a doctor from Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles (where I receive my treatment and care) was sharing how a VR headset placed on a hospital patient’s bedside was statistically improving the patient outcome and experience. I had traveled to Boston to discover a Southern California company called Applied VR. They had (and have) tremendous projects planned for the future. The patient on the video was smiling and looked happy. One man in the booth asked me if I wanted to try the headset prototype on. I was exhausted, but they told me to put my bag down and stand up. I did.
They adjusted the headset, and a few moments later I was immersed and swimming with manatees—otherwise known as “sea cows”. I never imagined the beauty of a manatee before. Their slow underwater movements were like watching a ballet. After a few minutes, the man gently tapped my shoulder and asked me if I liked it. I did and have been an advocate for virtual reality in pain care ever since that day. I was reinvigorated. In fact, later that night I went to the networking event and an after party.
The power of virtually swimming with the manatees felt like the equivalent of a restorative nap. I immediately asked them about their company and if they had plans for incorporating the VR headset into a patient’s hands and on their heads.
They did. This spring at the Virtual Medicine Conference held at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, Applied VR announced and presented the recently released preprogrammed virtual reality kit, created with the person living with pain in mind. The team at Applied VR did multiple beta tests. Full disclosure: I was one of many patients that provided input to the development team. During the creation of the Pain Care VR system, there were many factors to consider—from the weight of the headset to the brightness of the colorful graphics. Most importantly, would the headsets and using VR provide effective pain relief?
Each of these concerns were tackled. There is now a system that can provide an alternative to prescription pain medication. Virtual reality and a single company alone may not be the entire answer, but in conjunction with other mindfulness techniques, the Pain Care VR system is a great tool to have. It is my hope that other companies work with and collaborate with Applied VR on creating more content to aid in relieving pain.
While I may have initially fallen in love by taking a relaxing plunge with some manatees, now I must admit that I truly enjoyed immersing myself into the ocean to “swim with dolphins” and practice my diaphragmatic breathing as a “virtual” tree grows and blooms. These are just two of the programs now available to me and other Pain Care VR consumers. While the change did not happen overnight, it happened because the healthcare IT designers and companies believed that they could indeed invent a better way for people living with chronic or acute pain to find relief. The future of virtual reality is here today—best of all, it is available without a prescription.
Editor’s note: Amanda wasn’t paid to endorse Applied VR, and this is her opinion. There are other similar products on the market or in development.
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